Cherelle Parker often comes off unapologetic about who she is, where she comes from and what she believes in. The former Philadelphia City Council member and Democratic mayoral candidate – who often refers to herself in the third person – is leaning on her legislative and lived experiences as she seeks to become the city’s 100th and first female mayor.
“The grit, determination, passion, stick-to-itiveness – that fight inside of me – all of that comes from my Philadelphia upbringing,” Parker told City & State during an exclusive interview. “Philadelphia is known as a proud city of neighborhoods, each one being distinct, its own brand with its own defining factors and or characteristics … I'm a product of Philadelphia's human infrastructure.”
When it comes to government experience, Parker has logged more years than her mayoral candidate peers, having spent 17 as a lawmaker between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. And as a born-and-raised northwest Philadelphian, she’s part of the politically-powerful Northwest Coalition – an influential group of elected officials and ward leaders that represents a large swath of voters who have consistently cast ballots in most elections. She’s already received a major endorsement from the Building Trades Council – a coalition of more than 30 construction unions that have played a major role in electing Mayor Jim Kenney and those before him.
Mustafa Rashed, a Democratic political consultant, said that in such a crowded primary field, the building trades endorsement cannot be understated.
“It’s a big one. Everyone who is running a citywide campaign, that’s the one they go for,” said Rashed. “The labor support can come in the form of volunteers, it can come in the form of get-out-the-vote campaigns on Election Day, it could be financial support so you have the resources to run your campaign. Those are all meaningful.”
Following the endorsement, Parker pledged to build a union apprenticeship program with the Philadelphia School District to help construct more affordable housing with union workers.
“I'm crazy about home ownership,” Parker told City & State. “A neighborhood is treated differently when the people who live there own their properties versus being transient … I want to grow Philadelphia's tax base. I want to grow our economic pie. That means we need more contributors, more businesses and more people paying into that tax base so we can deal with the challenges that are facing our city.”
Parker said she has made public safety, jobs and city services a focus of her campaign, often citing her experience as the first Black woman to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and her work as City Council’s majority leader as skills that set her apart from the other candidates.
Parker boasts many achievements, but some of her time serving as a state representative was marred by controversy. She was convicted of DUI in a state-issued car in 2011 when she was a legislator representing northwest Philadelphia. She spent three days in jail, paid a $1,000 fine and went a year without a valid driver’s license.
Parker’s resignation from City Council to launch her mayoral run came alongside a move to become a lobbyist in Harrisburg. Many were surprised to see Parker working on behalf of the Moore College of Art and Design and Longwood Gardens less than two weeks after resigning to run.
Without her $130,668 salary from City Council, Parker’s team said she needed income to support her 10-year-old son while she began her campaign for mayor. She downplayed her ties to Harrisburg lobbyists, arguing that her time in the state Capitol was “by far the best professional development that I could have ever acquired.”
“It is, quite frankly, what has positioned me to be the candidate with the most inter-governmental experience necessary to lead and meet this moment needed in city government right now as it relates to being the CEO,” Parker said.
“They can try to call me whatever they want to call me. But as a Black woman, particularly in Harrisburg, I've never allowed myself to be put in a box,” she told City & State, stating that her political connections should be proof of her ability to unite broad coalitions. “Obtaining solutions to complex problems requires that you have the ability to bring unlikely allies together.”
A key focus this mayor’s race will be best practices for addressing violent crime. Earlier last year, Parker published the Philadelphia Neighborhood Safety and Community Policing Plan, which outlined priorities such as hiring 300 beat and bike cops, adding security cameras and lighting throughout the city and cleaning up commercial corridors. Similar plans have faced some criticism for calling for greater police involvement, and Parker has gotten similar complaints for advocating for a “constitutional” version of stop and frisk. She mentioned the history associated with unconstitutional police stops and said that she only supports “terry stops,” meaning situations where there is reasonable suspicion that an individual is armed, engaged – or about to be engaged – in criminal conduct.
“I'm the mother of a 10-year-old Black boy and his father has to have that police discussion with him. I have to have that police discussion with him,” Parker said. “However, I also want him and others situated to live and be safe in the city that they can call their own … I want law enforcement to have the tools that they need to ensure that Philadelphia is a safer city.”
4 quick questions with Cherelle Parker:
Would you favor having an elected school board? No.
Would you consider a rent control system? I do not support an affordable housing model that includes putting low-income people together in one community comprised of all low-income people. When I grew up, they were called projects … I want a mixed-use sort of affordable housing … million-dollar houses in the middle of singles and twins, and then public housing. But when you're driving through the development, all of its aesthetically appealing, the grass is well maintained, no trash is on the ground, and all of those communities are blended together.
Would you look to reform the soda tax? No.
How would you prioritize getting the city back to 2 million residents? A safer, cleaner, greener, and economically (sound) city. How about we really invest in our tourism, arts and culture? We could make people want to come here and we can grow it.